Episode 8 – Part 3

'Meet Jo Blank'

x-x-x

Jo was eyeing Dean with a level of suspicion he was unaccustomed to, and it was fast wearing thin with the frazzled hunter. After three solid hours of research, Dean slammed the ancient tome before him closed, and raked one hand through his hair. They had been holed up in the motel room since springing Jo from the hospital, he and Sam alternating between research and a possible monster ID, and attempting to jog Jo's memory with pictures, familiar objects, and some less colourful stories from the past. Sam figured that anything referencing demons or hell-spawn was probably not okay, whilst Dean seemed to deliberately steer into such territory, hoping that the recounted memories would perhaps prod the dormant hunter lying beneath the surface back into consciousness.

The sigh Dean let out was telling, and the subsequent glance he shot at Jo's sleeping form signalled to Sam that he had all but admitted defeat for the night. Dark circles ringed Dean's eyes, and his mouth opened wide as a yawn overwhelmed him.

"You can hit the hay, man," Sam offered, breaking the silence that had descended ever since Jo had dropped off half an hour ago. "I'll keep at it for a while and see what I can turn up."

Stirring from what was clearly a troubled sleep, Jo propped herself up slowly on her elbows and cast Dean a weary glance. For some reason she seemed more at ease with Sam, a fact that was causing Dean no end of irritation.

"Hey sleeping beauty." Dean greeted her with a smile, sighing as Jo stared up at him and managed only a brief nod of acknowledgement.

"Just... using the bathroom," Dean said, holding up his hands as he skirted around her and closed the bathroom door behind him with an exasperated slam.

"Sam?" Jo began uncertainly, pulling the sleeves of her sweater down over her hands as she hugged her arms around herself and shuffled across the room.

"Uh... yeah?" Sam lifted his gaze from the laptop and waited for Jo to perch on the chair opposite him.

"Can I ask you something?" she lowered her gaze to the scratched surface of the table and began to run her fingertip around the rings that marked the wood.

"Sure, I guess," Sam frowned, wincing sympathetically as he regarded the woman, "I know this has got to be hard on you, Jo, but... we're doing all we can to figure it out. Dean won't rest until you're..."

"About Dean..." Jo began, glancing up hesitantly at the bathroom door, "he seems... kind of edgy all the time. Like, angry?"

Sam blew out an uneven breath and bobbed his head as he quickly mulled over her character analysis, "No, that's just how he deals with stress. Dean uh... Dean likes to channel the Tasmanian Devil before he deals with what's bothering him."

Jo frowned, twisting her lips contemplatively, "Doesn't that make him kind of an asshole?"

Sam snorted with laughter, but quickly leapt to his brother's defence, "Dean can be a total pain in the ass sometimes, but... seriously, Jo, he's a great guy underneath that... asshole like exterior, and, you gotta know, there isn't a thing he wouldn't do for you."

Jo nodded, managing a brief smile as she rubbed her hands together and picked at loose threads on the sleeves of her sweater.

"We're happy?" she asked, glancing up in confusion as Sam laughed out loud at her question.

"Shocked the hell out of all of us, but... yeah," Sam grinned, thinking back on Dean's illustrious dating past, and how surprised they had all been, given Jo's similar temperament, that the relationship appeared to be working out.

"You seem... I mean..." Jo began, babbling as she gesticulated wildly with her hands and paused, unsure of how to continue.

"I seem?" Sam fished, his brows now furrowed expectantly.

"Well, how does a guy of your... uh... lifestyle choice... even get in to hunting, anyway? Just seems kind of unlikely."

Sam shook his head as if not understanding as he repeated, "My lifestyle choice?"

Jo's head snapped up as Dean's spluttering and subsequent laughter could be heard from behind the bathroom door, and Sam's cheeks suddenly burned hot and crimson.

"No!" he exclaimed, shaking his head emphatically, "I'm not… I mean… no… not that there's any… I mean… that's not a bad thing but…"

"Oh God," Jo cried, her eyes widening as she recognised her error, and Sam's cheeks flushed all the more. He merely shook his head, offering her a tight smile, before his gaze plummeted back to the laptop in front of him.

"I should get back to work," Sam explained, clearing his throat and narrowing his eyes as he listened to the sound of Dean's continuing laughter. Grumbling under his breath, Sam tapped at the keyboard with a little more vigour than was truly necessary.

"I didn't mean…" Jo began, her eyes impossibly wide and her hands fluttering in front of her chest.

"It's fine," Sam replied, his lips pressed into a smile, "really."

The bathroom door swung open and Dean strolled back into the bedroom, clearly lapping up Sam's embarrassment. His eyes gleamed as he shot a look at his brother, mouth opening in preparation to birth a sardonic comment.

"Just… don't…" Sam warned, rolling his eyes and shaking his head without so much as glancing at his brother. Obediently, Dean closed his mouth, although his disappointment at having his attempts at wit foiled was evident.

Pulling out the rickety dining chair beside Jo's, Dean turned it around and sat astride the seat. Jo watched him closely, noting the nervous and thoughtful expression that had settled on his admittedly handsome features.

"Look, Jo..." he began, clearing his throat as he picked at the strap of his watch and tactfully averted her gaze. Jo smiled a little uncertainly, feeling an odd spark of recognition rise up from the pit of her stomach as his green eyes settled on her face.

"I know I come across as kind of a jerk sometimes and... I'm sorry. I guess I just feel a little helpless right now and, I just want you back," he shrugged lamely, managing a smile as his eyes focused intently on hers.

Slowly and almost nervously, Jo reached out toward him and let her hand flutter onto his arm.

"I wish I remembered you," she lamented, sighing as he nodded in response and placed his hand gently over hers.

"We'll figure it out, I promise," he vowed, although the nervous flutter in his stomach betrayed his confident exterior.

Sam watched the exchange from behind the screen of his laptop. He had to admit that in the months since his brother and Jo had been together, Dean's emotional range had increased beyond his wildest expectations. Now, for Dean to be facing the prospect of having to rebuild the foundations he had laid with Jo, who was essentially a different person, was just heart breaking for Sam to consider.

He tapped away relentlessly at the keyboard, entering keywords into the Google search bar to seemingly no avail. Bobby had been able to turn up very little that could offer a potential ID on the monster, or a way to kill it, and was now in the process of calling round his contacts in the hopes that their collective experiences in the field could prove useful. Sam refused to even contemplate the thought that they would not.

It was as he was immersed in his lamenting that his cell phone began to vibrate at his side, jumping several inches off the desk it perched on, and sending the chorus of the generic techno ringtone reverberating around the motel room. Jo started, and Dean almost leapt on top of the phone, although Sam beat him to it by a hair's breadth.

"You got something?" he panted, not bothering with the customary 'hello'. He realised, too late, that he had not even bothered to check the screen to see if the incoming was actually from Bobby. Indeed, Sam's heart sank as an unfamiliar voice replied.

"Maybe, but you ain't even gonna bother with a little 'howdy' first?"

"Is that… is this Garth?" Sam inquired, his tone half incredulous as he considered the likelihood that the slightly inept, gangly, and overly enthusiastic Texan hunter would be calling his cell with potential info that would actually prove useful.

"The Garth is on the line," the voice confirmed, deadly serious in its conviction. Sam glanced down askance at the cell phone in his hand, but shrugged before returning it to his ear. Dean had drawn closer now, his interest and desperation both peaked, whilst Jo had preoccupied herself with skimming through a glossy women's magazine that she had discovered at the back of the bedside table.

"Good to hear from you, man," Sam stated, wasting little time before he continued, "did Bobby call you?"

"Yeah, I had a call from the ol' man," Garth replied, pausing momentarily. Sam strained to discern what had stolen Garth's attention, and was somewhat irritated when he heard the distinct sound of potato chips being crushed between eager incisors.

"He'said…" Garth mumbled through a mouthful of chips, pausing to swallow, "he said… his girl was in trouble. I didn't think Bobby Singer had any kids?"

Sam rubbed his forehead as he winced and shook his head, "Not exactly, but... as good as, I guess."

"So," Garth began, now all business like as he imparted his wisdom in a smug tone of voice, "sounds to me like you boys have found yourselves a Memoladro."

"A memory thief?" Sam translated, briefly calling upon the semester of Italian that his room-mate had talked him into taking as an elective.

"And how do we kill it?" Sam asked, picking up one of their heavy supernatural tomes, and beginning to flick through it as he realised he had never heard of such a creature.

"Basically, you stab it between the eyes with something pointy," Garth relayed, "the weapon of choice is really your call, but... I like to go old-school, whittle myself a good, trusty stake, and..."

"Not really sure we have time for whittling," Sam said, allowing for a small smile, "okay, so... we kill it, and..."

"And the memories it's sucked out of all your good folks up there will be returned… provided they're still alive. Badda bing , badda boom."

"What? What's he saying?" Dean interrupted, shaking his head and sighing irritably as Sam swatted him away from the phone.

"What do you mean… provided they're still alive?" Sam repeated, his features clouding with worry. He turned his back purposefully on Dean, fending his brother off with one arm as Dean made a grab for the cell phone.

"Well, when the Memoladro sucks in your memories, it somehow speeds up the aging process. Although the result can't be physically seen, inside your body starts to thinking it's a hundred and changes real quick," Garth replied, his tone still slow and easy, despite the fact that Sam was grunting now with the effort of holding Dean at bay.

"Give me the god-damned phone, Samuel," Dean roared, ignoring the glare that his brother directed at him with the use of his scarcely mentioned Christian name. It was a sure sign that Dean was full throttle pissed, but Sam was determined not to relent to him, as he knew that knowing the full details that Garth had revealed could only drive his brother to distraction.

"You ok, Sam?" Garth checked, although sounding unconcerned in actuality.

"Awesome," Sam managed through clenched teeth as Dean grabbed a fistful of his hair and attempted to yank his head backwards. He placed a large palm in the centre of Dean's face and pushed his brother backwards, although Dean put up a valiant fight. Luckily, Jo had disappeared into the bathroom only seconds after Sam had answered the call, and appeared to be taking her time.

Finally, Dean stomped down on Sam's exposed foot, crushing the toe on his right foot mercilessly. Sam let out a yell, and Dean swiped the cell phone, raising it to his ear with a victorious grin. Sam spewed an impressive and seemingly endless stream of curse words, but Dean turned away from his little brother unconcerned.

"Garth? It's Dean," he stated, running one hand through his hair in order to smooth it back into place, "talk to me, man."

"Hey, the Deanmeister!" Garth crooned, an audible grin making Dean grimace, "s'up my man?!"

"How do we kill this thing? And what happens to the people it's... sucked on?" Dean demanded, obviously seeing no time for exchanging pleasantries.

"Like I just told your bro, bro, you just gotta stab it between it's baby blues. Am I not making myself clear here?"

"Crystal," Dean replied curtly, only just remembering to thank their fellow hunter before he flipped the cell phone closed and tossed it onto the nearest bed.

"Okay, saddle up, Sammy," he announced, reaching for his leather jacket from the back of a chair, "we gotta go bash us some brains in."

"Whoah, whoah, whoah!" Sam halted his sibling's plans for the moment, and shook his head in disbelief. "You think charging in there without a plan is the best idea, Dean? We don't know what this thing's capable of, let's just..."

"No!" Dean interrupted, "you can 'phone a friend' again Regis, but I'm going, with or without you."

"Don't be a fool, man," Sam argued, licking his lips as he struggled to quickly formulate an argument that would halt Dean in his tracks. Seeing the glower that his brother shot at him, Sam swallowed hard.

"I'm done talking about this," Dean replied, shrugging his jacket onto his shoulders and grabbing up the Impala keys that rested in a crystal dish on a table next to the door.

"Dean…" Sam called out as Dean swung the door open and stepped out into the night air.

"What?" he snarled, poking his head around the door and frowning at Sam, who gestured to the still bathroom. From within the sound of running shower water could be heard.

"What about Jo?" Sam asked quietly, deliberately keeping his tone low so as not to be overheard by the still skittish blonde. "We can't just leave her here, and we sure as hell can't take her with us."

"You're right," Dean relented, stepping back into the room and closing the door behind him. "We need a sitter."

"A sitter?" Sam repeated, staring askance at Dean, "dude, she's not five. She'll totally kick your ass for suggesting it."

"No," Dean corrected, shaking his head sadly, "our Jo would kick my ass… the woman in there… she doesn't remember how to be that person."

Dean halted on the threshold of the motel room, his keys hanging indecisively from his fingertips.

"Okay, so... what are we gonna do here? We can't take her with us," he reasoned, realising that in her current state, Jo could not possibly take care of herself and would doubtlessly be freaked out by the supernatural being they were preparing to face.

Sam shrugged, standing as he grabbed his jacket and gestured toward the room around them, "We can always leave her here?"

Dean sighed, mentally weighing up the pros and cons of his sibling's suggestion before coming to a swift resolution. Crossing the room in barely two strides, Dean knocked gingerly on the bathroom door and stepped back in surprise as a fully clothed, yet freshly showered Jo greeted him.

"Yeah?" she eyed him warily, folding her arms across her chest in a defensive gesture that made Dean's heart constrict.

"We're uh... we're heading out to go and take care of this... thing," Dean began, eyebrows raised as Jo interrupted.

"The thing that did this to me?" she enquired, chewing on her bottom lip as her expression became vaguely hopeful, and then tinged with deep seated concern.

"Okay, but... I mean, are you sure you know how to... deal with it?" she asked, wondering why a growing sense of trepidation and concern for the man before her was starting to pool in the pit of her stomach.

"We've got a pretty good idea," Sam replied, glancing out into the parking lot through the open door and scouting around the area. The parking lot was deserted save for the Impala and the manager's car.

"Will you be ok here… on your own?" Dean checked, ducking his head a little as he spoke to Jo, who he noted did not lean away from him this time. She hesitated and then nodded.

"I'm sure I'll be fine," Jo said, her voice quavering a little in betrayal of her nerves. She winced as Dean glanced sharply at her.

"You sure?" he checked, adding quickly, "cos we can call Castiel down here and…"

"That guy that goes poof?" Jo demanded, her eyes immediately widening. She shook her head vehemently and spluttered, "N-no thank you!"

Dean nodded, before he crossed the room and stopped short in front of Jo's bag. He unzipped the side pocket and reached inside, wordlessly withdrawing something that was wrapped in an old oil rag. He approached Jo cautiously, drawing the cloth back from the blade of the silver hunting knife. He half expected her to shy away as he approached with the weapon in his hand but, much to Dean's surprise, Jo extended one arm and brushed her fingertips across the blade of the knife. She squinted as she read the initials carved into the hilt aloud.

"W. A. H.," she murmured, the letters prickling at her memory. She closed her eyes and shook her head, wrinkling her nose in frustration as the memories seemed to dance just out of her reach.

"Don't worry," Dean comforted, offering Jo the knife, "we'll fix this, I swear."

"Okay," she nodded, watching as he recovered the blade and placed the carefully wrapped knife into her open palm.

Jo faltered, smiling self-consciously as she peered down at her feet and a flush of pink suddenly coloured her cheeks.

"I feel like I should tell you to be careful?" she began, powerless to thwart the smile that tugged at her lips as Dean looked vaguely pleased with her admission.

"Always am," he answered, winking at her before he hesitantly bent and pressed a kiss to her forehead. Jo stilled, closing her eyes at the gesture, and sighing at the faint touch of his fingertips upon the apple of her cheek.

Dean nodded over toward her cell phone on the nightstand, "You need us, you call, okay?!"

Jo glanced between Sam and Dean before she added with a nervous laugh, "Maybe next time I see you guys... I'll remember you?"

Silently, Dean closed the motel room door behind himself, and watched as Sam led the way to the waiting Impala. More than anything, he hoped that Jo was right.

x-x-x

As the sleek, black car swung out of the parking lot and careered around the bend, he watched from behind the wheel of his own SUV. Droplets of rain began to splash onto the windscreen, but he did not bother to turn on the wipers as he started the engine and approached the entrance to the parking lot at a crawl.

He was hesitant, to say the least. Ordinarily, he would never approach a hunter, but these people had caught wind of him now, and he knew that his card was marked. There was nothing else to do.

As Lance climbed out of the car, grumbling at a pesky stab of sciatica pain that ricocheted through his body, he found himself faintly repentant at what he was about to do. Really, he wasn't a bad guy. He just had needs, like everyone else.

Raising one pudgy hand to the door of the motel room, Lance rapped sharply and awaited an answer.

x-x-x

Keeping his flashlight trained low to the ground, Dean swept the beam carefully down the hall, his body tensed as he and Sam made their way steadily toward the manager's office in pursuit of their mark.

The tall, shaggy haired cleaner stumbled down the dimly lit hall, trailing his hands along the wall rail as he appeared to be chanting under his breath.

"What the hell is that? Klingon?" Dean glowered , a nervous trepidation bubbling up from the pit of his stomach.

"Beats me..." Sam replied in a whisper, both hunters suddenly flattening against the wall as an orderly hurried out of a room and toward the nurse's station. The vibration of his phone against his thigh brought Dean to a sudden halt and, as he fumbled to retrieve it from his pocket, they momentarily lost sight of their suspect.

"Son of a bitch," Dean hissed, the icon on his phone screen alerting him to the fact the signal had now died

"Where'd he go?" he demanded, squinting to see in the dark.

"In there," Sam directed as on cue a series of bangs and crashes resounded from the darkness of the manager's office. Swallowing hard, he murmured, "On three?"

Ignoring any pretense at a countdown, Dean promptly kicked the door open, the hinges giving way to the assault and shards of wood flying through the air. The startled scream of the cleaner met their ears almost immediately.

"Holy shit!" the man yelled, leaping around in fear as he danced in the beam of light Sam shone in his direction, desperately searching for an escape.

"Don't move," Dean commanded, training his pistol at the cleaner, who now appeared to be weeping openly as he glared at the weapon.

"I'm sorry, man… I swear to Vishnu I'm sorry…" he called, breathing heavily as he looked from Sam to Dean and back again.

"Yeah, well sorry just isn't gonna cut it, bud," Dean snarled, releasing the safety catch on the pistol and squinting as he took aim at the creature's skull.

"Oh God no!" the cleaner yelped, running both hands through his messy hair and groaning. "I swear… it's only a little pot… I'll tell you everything… just… just don't hurt me, man."

"Dean…" Sam said, his voice low in warning. "I don't…"

"Quiet, Sammy, you're throwing my aim off," Dean replied, his tone dripping with fury as he struggled to find his target.

"Dean!" Sam repeated, this time more insistent, "look at his eyes, dude. He's loaded but I don't think he's our monster."

"What?" Dean demanded, glaring at Sam before whipping around once more to stare at the cleaner. The man's eyes were red rimmed and his pupils appeared to be impossibly dilated.

Dean's jaw set, as he appeared to reconsider his options, and he nodded over at the cleaner who was staring back at him.

"You a memory sucking monster?" he demanded gruffly.

The cleaner looked momentarily thoughtful, and his tone betrayed his confusion as he stammered, "N... No?"

Dean sighed heavily, flicking the safety catch on his gun and lowering the weapon from view.

"Hey, uh... hey man, you got any snacks?" the cleaner asked hesitantly, beaming inanely at the simultaneous glares he received from the siblings. He dug his hands in his pockets and swayed unsteadily from side to side.

"Get back to work," Dean directed, gesturing toward the door with the gun still in his hand.

"Yes sir," the young man readily complied, hustling toward the door as he released a series of relieved breaths.

"And don't do drugs," Dean commanded as an afterthought, pointing almost in warning at the man.

"Please don't tell my boss, like... that dude is scary, man. He's got like these googly eyes and... and... I kind of think he reads minds, you know?" he drawled, his voice somewhere between fear and awe.

Sam's brows raised in response, and he bit back a smirk as he watched the man poke incessantly at the side of his head as if to illustrate his point.

"Hey, Keanu... You wanna get the hell out of here?!" Dean shook his head in disapproval and slid his gun back into the back pocket of his jeans.

Nodding almost good naturedly, the man sauntered off out of the office, all pretences of cleaning the space having clearly been forgotten, as were the presence of the two men with guns. Sam and Dean rolled their eyes in perfect unison, the latter slamming his balled up fist against the wall in frustration as he realised that they were fast running out of time.

However, Dean's heavy handed action had succeeded in disturbing a shelving unit, and he turned sharply as a collection of DVD cases tumbled to the floor. Sam crossed the room in a few strides and bent to scoop up the evidence of intruders to the office. Each plastic case was blank, save for a label on the spine containing names written in black marker pen. Sam froze as one particular name caught his eye, and he raised the case to face height to examine it at closer quarters.

"What was the name of the old guy that had his memories stolen? The one Jo was so upset about?" Sam pressed, something in his voice urgent. Dean frowned, scratching his forehead as he struggled to remember.

"I dunno, dude… Oliver something?" Dean said slowly, his nose wrinkled by the effort of concentrated thought.

"And what was the alias Jo was going by?" Sam probed, climbing to his feet with the stack of boxes in his hand.

"Elizabeth Williams," Dean replied without missing a beat. "What's with the 20 questions?"

"Dean..." Sam said gravely, handing over the DVD case that seemed to have been the newest addition to the collection.

Dean read the familiar name on the label with a sinking realisation and, moments later, the case dropped to the floor with a clatter as both hunters ran through the corridors and towards the waiting Impala.

It seemed that this time, the monster had hunted them.

x-x-x

Jo sat back against the doorframe, crouching down with her head in her hands as she continued to listen to the soft, persuasive tones of the man on the other side of the door. Despite stating several times that she could not recall her old job or boss, her visitor continued to talk through the door some ten minutes after his arrival.

"Beth? Come on honey, I'm just here to talk. I wanted to check up on you, make sure you're okay."

Jo groaned, scrolling through her phone to find Dean's number again and hitting 'call' with trembling fingers. This time the dial tone greeted her and seconds later a familiar, urgent voice crackled from the speaker.

"Jo? You okay?" Dean demanded hurriedly, and Jo winced as the knocking on the door vibrated through her body as her visitor became more insistent.

"Elizabeth? I know you're in there!"

"There's some guy outside," Jo hissed, "says he's my boss. But... I don't know, something doesn't feel right, Dean, I think... I..."

She gasped as he beat louder against the wood, and her eyes darted to the knife laying in the centre of the bed. Glancing behind her to the door, Jo inched across the floor and reached for the blade, which was still wrapped within the cloth.

"We'll be there in two minutes, don't open the door!" Dean stated, leaving little room for argument.

"Wasn't planning on it," Jo hissed in a whisper, although by the time she had managed the words the dialing tone was all that resounded in her ear. Jo sat with her back pressed flush against the end of the bed, and tucked her knees into her chest. She rested her chin atop her knees and encircled her own arms around herself, allowing the knife to remain on the floor by her feet.

"Ok, I can see you don't want to talk," the man finally called out, his violent assault on the door ceasing abruptly. "I'm going to go, but can you at least get whoever you're staying with to call me and let me know you're ok? I was beside myself with worry when I heard."

Jo remained quiet, her breathing noisy and uneven, and her heart hammering out an unfamiliar rhythm in her chest.

"Goodnight then," her boss stated, before Jo heard the sound of footsteps making their way back towards the parking lot. She heaved a sigh of relief, momentarily allowing her eyelids to flutter closed as she sagged against the bed frame. For several moments, Jo sat that way, her heart struggling to slow to a more normal pattern, and her eyes watering in a telling manner.

"Get it together, Jo," she whispered to herself, beginning to clamber to her feet as she reached for the cell phone once more in order to alert Dean to the fact that the potential danger had passed, and she had perhaps made something out of nothing after all.

However, her relief was short lived as, from the en-suite came the distinctive sound of glass shattering and, the next moment, the bathroom door flew off its hinges.

"Now look here," Lance shouted, stalking across the room toward a shell shocked, wide-eyed Jo, "you and I have got some unfinished business, missy..."

"No we don't," Jo croaked, as she scrambled to her feet and concealed the knife behind her back whilst backing up against the door of the motel room.

The chain had been drawn across, and she knew in the time it would take to try to unlock and unlatch the door, Lance would easily be able to apprehend her.

Lance sighed, shaking his head sadly as he shrugged as if to convey his own unease with the situation.

"I don't like this anymore than you, Jo..." he smiled as she appeared shocked at his use of her real name, "come on, I know what you are."

"What... what are you?" Jo asked, swallowing down the tremor in her voice as she tried to buy some time. Hopefully Dean and Sam would be arriving imminently to save the day. Somewhere in the back of her mind she had the vague feeling that she hated playing the damsel in distress. But in that moment, the arrival of the two hunters would be more than welcomed.

Lance threw his hands up, chuckling as he added, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with all these labels society imposes on us, and whilst I applaud your transparent attempts at chit-chat, I'd really like to just move things along here, if that's okay with you?! "

Jo's mouth dropped open as a bright white light emanated from what appeared to be a third eye that emerged in the centre of the man's forehead. Jo watched in sickened horror as his puckered skin parted, unveiling the previously concealed eye, which blinked at her profusely.

"This won't hurt a bit, I promise," Lance soothed, moving towards Jo with one pudgy arm outstretched towards the crown of her head.

Jo let out an uncharacteristic shriek and ducked underneath Lance's arm, throwing herself towards the unmade bed. Lance let out a tsking noise and shook his head, his expression irritated as he spun around to confront Jo once again.

"Don't make this difficult," Lance almost pleaded, taking a step towards Jo, who hurriedly shook the hunting knife free of the oil rag. She brandished it at the creature bearing down on her, her arm trembling uncontrollably. Lance eyed the weapon and shook his head, apparently weighing up the pros and cons of attempting to challenge Jo. A sly smile slid across his lips, and he proceeded to move towards the hunter.

"I'm guessing you don't remember how to do this…" Lance mocked, chuckling and wiping at his brow in mock relief as Jo took a step backwards and almost tripped over her own feet.

"D-don't be so sure," Jo stammered, thrusting the knife at the creature as though to punctuate her threat.

Lance sighed dramatically, casting a glance at his watch, "Okay, look sweetie, I appreciate the whole 'feisty blonde' thing, I do, but... my Netflix arrived in the mail this morning, and it's been a long day, I..."

The creature's weary words were interrupted by the motel room door splintering free from its hinges to reveal two decidedly angry looking hunters, both brandishing shot guns.

"Jo!" Dean shouted, wincing in disdain as he looked at the blinking, rolling third eye that was now firmly affixed upon him from deep inside the creature's forehead.

Jo breathed an audible sigh but although a sense of relief had started to overcome her, anger was now also bubbling to the surface. Before Lance had a chance to react, Jo's jaw set and she raised her knee, landing it hard in Lance's groin.

Lance gasped in pain, his hands suddenly clutching at the injured area, and both Sam and Dean grimaced in momentary empathy. Jo noticed with satisfaction that all three of the man's eyes were now watering.

With the knife handle clutched in her hand, she raised her arm toward Lance's head.

"Get OFF of me!" she shouted, kicking out at him once again and effectively blocking a punch he hurriedly attempted.

The Winchester brothers reached her side a split second too late, and the sickening sound of metal meeting flesh punctuated Jo's furious yelling.

Lance's body dropped to the ground in a crumpled heap, and his head fell heavily upon Dean's boots as the hunter stared frantically between the dying creature and his shaking girlfriend.

All three eyes grew impossibly wide and both hands clawed at the hunting knife that was sticking out of the top of his skull. Green blood oozed from the wound, and Sam fought back a wave of nausea as he took in the sight of the creature with it's cranium split open like a watermelon.

Finally, Lance's eyelids fluttered and closed for the last time.

The three hunters stood in silence as the seconds ticked by, Jo breathing heavily and Dean still maintaining his distance for fear of rebuttal. After a minute had elapsed, Dean hazarded a step towards his girlfriend.

"Jo?" he attempted, his tone hopeful and his eyes alight with the promise contained within the Memoladro's demise.

"I… I don't…" Jo whispered, tears beginning to tumble freely down her cheeks, "I still don't remember."

"Wh-what?" Dean demanded, his expression utterly crestfallen as he peered at first Jo and then his brother.

Sam stared back helplessly at his sibling, and Dean met his gaze with a desolate expression.

"I'll call Bobby, maybe there's something else we gotta do? I mean, maybe we should burn the body, or... or something," Sam shrugged, leaping into action and trying to provide some semblance of hope.

"Yeah, maybe," Dean nodded, trying to muster a reassuring smile for Jo's benefit.

She nodded though unconvinced and, stepping over the creature's body, stood in front of Dean and stared up at his face. Try as she might, and with the greatest will in the world, nothing about his features or eyes sparked even the slightest trace of familiarity.

Blowing out an unsteady breath, Jo shook her head as she whispered, "So... what now?"

Dean averted his gaze to the floor, trying to formulate some sort of plan that would somehow convince his head to believe his heart. But there was only one possible option. His fingers tentatively brushed the edge of her hand, and he was grateful when he slipped his fingers through hers and she made no effort to resist.

"I guess... we start right back at the beginning."

"The beginning…" Jo repeated, sucking in a breath as she gave a slight nod of agreement. Cautiously, Dean extended his right hand and brushed his fingertips down Jo's cheekbone, consenting to smile as she allowed herself to lean into his touch.

"I love you, y'know?" Dean said quietly, his voice barely audible. Sam shuffled into the ensuite with his cell phone clutched in one hand, stepping over the felled door in order to allow the couple a few moments of rare privacy. Bobby had yet to answer his call, and Sam continued to wait with mounting impatience, listening to the incessant ringing as he willed the old hunter to pick up.

"I wish I did," Jo murmured in reply, her gaze ticking back to Lance's prone body and the hilt of the knife that protruded from his skull.

"You will… I never break a promise," Dean stated, his grin cocksure and lopsided as he reached out and tucked a tendril of hair behind Jo's ear. She peered up at him, her eyes sweeping his features and scrutinizing everything she found there. Whilst she could sense he was a good man at heart, and it was evident that she certainly meant a great deal to him, Jo simply could not recall even the smallest details of their life together.

"Here," Dean said, bending down towards the monster's corpse and reaching for the hunting knife. Jo watched as Dean seized the handle and then proceeded to wiggle the blade free. It slid out of its mark with a sickening squelch and Jo grimaced, grateful when Dean wiped the blade across his jeans a couple of times before offering her the handle of the weapon. Jo reached out, her fingers brushing against the cold metal, and her eyes slammed shut not of their own accord.

Dean sucked in a sharp breath, his own eyelids flickering closed unbidden, and the couple stood in silence, connected not only by the blade, but by over two decades of memories as they flowed back into the mind of their owner.

Jo gasped, her body reeling backwards with the force, and Dean reached blindly for her hand as the air around them crackled and sparked.

A thousand memories flickered before his eyes, images a young child might see, when the world around them is vast and looming. A pair of dark brown eyes came into view, creasing with an adoring smile that was repeated over and over again. It was a face that dominated the hundreds of moments Dean suddenly found himself privy to; Ellen.

Jo learning to walk, birthday candles and streamers, lonely lullabies next to a snow frosted window, and a grave stone that bore the name of an elusive yet much loved father.

The years passed by in a rush, leaving little time to determine the images, save for familiar faces and places Dean himself had known and loved.

Then he finally saw himself, or rather, he saw the back of his jacket; rifle pressed to the centre of his torso as their wary exchange played out, and Dean relived the moment he had first laid eyes on Jo Harvelle, and how he had literally seen stars.

Dean felt himself swaying on his feet, and his hand clutched Jo's a little tighter as he drew her closer. The light around them was blinding, but a small smile tugged at his lips as he watched scenes of their everyday life flash before him.

There were moments he'd been unaware of but he watched, engrossed and in awe, as he saw himself through Jo's eyes.

Over and over he saw the strong line of his jaw stretched taught as his lips twisted into smile after smile that he no longer recalled the fuel behind. His own forest green eyes narrowed as they swept Jo's face, and more lingering kisses than he could count exploded in his memory, all from Jo's perspective.

Dean almost blushed as he saw a familiar lascivious look spread across his features, but he knew that every glance was appreciated by her. Finally, Jo let out a breath, and the images flickered before the final one played out; the memory of Lance slamming a heavy hand to Jo's forehead just before her whole world went black.

A few moments of silence elapsed, and Dean and Jo stood blinking at each other in both confusion and shock.

"D-dean?" Jo stuttered, the knife clattering from her fingers, striking the edge of the bedside cabinet before it plopped onto the carpet. Silently, Dean nodded, and then Jo's face was alight with a brilliant, wonderfully familiar smile.

"I remember…" she breathed. And it took less than a second for her to cross the distance between them, and throw herself into Dean's waiting arms.

x-x-x

Bobby grunted in thanks as Dean rested an opened bottle of beer on the table before him, and then slid a paper plate loaded with a slice of greasy pizza across to the older hunter. With a curt nod of acknowledgement, Bobby seized the beer and brushed the pizza aside untouched. His eyes narrowed a fraction as he returned his attention to Jo, who had been talking animatedly, all the while gesturing with her hands.

"So this… Memoladro just had everyone's memories stored up on DVDs?" Bobby demanded, staring askance at Jo, who nodded her head quickly.

"Yup, how's it feel Bobby knowing even the monsters are more technologically advanced than you?" Dean inquired, grinning as he heard Sam snicker from his position in the kitchen, where he was doubtlessly raiding the refrigerator for more beer.

"Shut up, idjit," Bobby growled gruffly, turning back to Jo as he continued, "can't you see the lady's telling a story?"

"Well, that's pretty much it," Jo shrugged, grinning through her words as Dean sat down behind her and slung his arm around her collarbone, pressing a kiss to her temple.

"So, all the wrinklies got their memories back too?" Bobby enquired, diplomatically averting his gaze and staring down the neck of his beer bottle.

"Uh-huh," Jo affirmed, her eyes firmly affixed upon Dean's as he leant closer and snatched a lingering kiss that was soon repeated, until the uncomfortable clearing of throats brought them to their senses.

"Anybody want more pizza?" Jo enquired, eyebrows raised as she stood from her chair and cast an expectant gaze over the three hunters.

Bobby and Sam watched her head toward the kitchen, and Dean smiled buoyantly as he gestured in her direction with his thumb, his body already raised out of his chair.

"I'll... go help her out with that," he explained, not bothering to await a response before he sauntered off to join his girlfriend.

Bobby watched them intently from across the room. His eyes narrowed and his lips twisted into a disdainful grimace as he arched an eyebrow in Sam's direction.

"You been putting up with all their touchy feely crap since Florida?"

"Yeah," Sam nodded, sighing wearily as he recalled the journey back to the car yard.

Bobby appeared to mull this over for a moment, and he shuddered for effect, "Ugh."

"Yeah," Sam drawled in ready agreement, lifting his beer bottle from the table and gratefully swallowing down a mouthful of the cold, amber liquid.

Dean leant back against the counter top, watching as Jo perused the remains of the two pizzas set out in open boxes before her. Her hair fell in loose curls down her shoulders, and he reached out to twist his finger through one stray lock as it swept the curve of her cheekbone, and Jo blinked at the intrusion.

"I... I missed you," Dean confessed, his fingertips lingering over Jo's face as she glanced up at him from behind thick dark lashes with apparent confusion.

Jo lifted her head and put her dinner decision on hold. A teasing smile caught her lips, and she shrugged as she thought over their latest hunting misadventure.

"I guess 'civilian' me was kind of a pain in the ass, huh?" she laughed to punctuate her sentence.

Dean shrugged, his grin telling although he said diplomatically, "She took some getting used to. The Jo I know has never exactly been helpless."

"It was the weirdest thing," Jo confessed, wrapping her arms around herself as she recalled the state she had been rendered in by the Memoladro, "I was there, aware of it all, and I knew little things like the alphabet and dumb stuff like that… but I didn't remember you or my Mom or this life."

"Don't think about it anymore," Dean soothed, moving Jo into his arms and embracing her tightly, taking a pause to breathe in the scent of her shampoo with his eyes closed. He had come so dangerously close to losing her again, and although Dean did not wish to dwell on this fact anymore, he knew it would be haunting his dreams for a while to come.

"The worst thing was not remembering how much I love you," Jo said quietly, her cheek pressing against Dean's chest. She listened intently to the beating of his heart beneath his breastbone, and a smile affected her lips.

"I love you too, Jo," Dean replied, and his voice rang out with a certainty and clarity that momentarily took Jo aback.

"Thank you for helping me remember," she whispered, stretching up on tiptoes in order to deposit the words directly into Dean's ear.

"Hey, I didn't do anything," Dean shrugged, his eyes happily drinking in the sight of her as he hugged her closer, "you went all Buffy and slayed the monster."

Jo grinned, looking momentarily thoughtful.

"That's right, I did," she nodded, her eyes sparkling with a light and luminosity that had previously been missing. Her arms looped tighter around his neck, and she pressed her cheek to his. The faint line of stubble brushed her soft skin, and her stomach dipped at the sensation and the firm hold of his hands around her waist.

"Yeah, yeah, 'Hunter Barbie'," Dean teased, and his fingers pinched playfully at her waist as he bent his head and attempted to seek out her lips.

"You know..." Jo began, her eyes focused on his mouth as he edged closer and her lips parted in anticipation, "in spite of everything, all that we've been through and the general suckiness of having to save the damn world once every quarter... I wouldn't trade my life for anything. That sound crazy?"

"Once… if someone had offered me a trade-off, I'd have chewed their damn arm off," Dean replied, his smile mirroring Jo's, "but not now."

"Guess we're pretty lucky, huh, Winchester?" Jo teased, giggling as she planted a kiss against Dean's jaw and his stubble prickled her lips. He straightened up a little, his nod solemn but amusement written plainly across his features. Absently, he ran the tip of his finger across the ring positioned on her hand, and his smile only grew wider.

"Guess we are," he simply answered. Jo looped her arm around Dean's waist and the couple sauntered back into the lounge, all thoughts of pizza and anything much beyond retiring for the evening now having been obliterated from their minds.

"Where are you two lovebirds headed?" Bobby demanded suspiciously, glancing up from the papers both he and Sam appeared glued to.

"Bedtime," Dean announced, pointedly avoiding the smirk Jo directed at him as he stretched his arms wide above his head and feigned a loud, obnoxious yawn. Simultaneously, Sam and Bobby rolled their eyes, shooting similarly irritated looks at Dean.

"Oh I see," Bobby griped, his tone sour but the twinkling in his eyes understanding, "you plan on chippin' in here at all, or just shirking your responsibilities altogether?"

"Last one sounds pretty good," Dean replied, winking at Bobby, who snorted before rolling his chair away from the edge of the table. "What are you guys up to anyway?"

Jo stole a glance over Sam's shoulder, skimming the neat cursive upon the paper with a thoughtful twist of her lips. There were two handwritten advertisements laid out before him, and Sam's gaze hovered uncertainly over both. Although the adverts were brief, barely fifty words each, it was clear that Sam had poured every last ounce of concentration and effort into writing them. The roadhouse had come to mean as much to he and Dean as it did to Jo, and the task of advertising for a new bar manager to take the reins when they were away on hunts was one that he was viewing with the utmost seriousness.

"I guess the first one?" Jo suggested, trying to calm the surge of nerves that rose up from the pit of her stomach suddenly.

She knew that the interview process was likely to be a stressful and possibly fruitless experience, thus she was anticipating it with an odd sense of dread. If the slightly strange patrons of the bar were not enough to drive away the more experienced applicants then the unconventional hours and last minute absence of the owners might prove to be the sticking point for most.

Jo was also mindful of the ever present memory of her mother, and she would never allow anybody to cross the threshold of the roadhouse if she thought Ellen would disapprove. The land was all she had left of her family now, and Jo was determined the business would not suffer as a result of her hunting lifestyle.

Over the years, the roadhouse had become a sanctuary and meeting place for hunters from all over the country, and the patrons regarded the place with almost as much reverence as the owners.
The new bar manager would almost certainly have an uphill struggle to endear themselves to the regulars, who still longed for the days of Ellen's heavy-handed yet big-hearted presence.

"Okay, well... now that's agreed," Dean began, "I think it's time we call it a night."

He smiled in obvious anticipation and wrapped an arm around Jo's waist. She returned his smile, although hers did not stretch all the way to her eyes as it usually did. Dean squeezed her waist gently, a gesture of reassurance, and murmured a quiet goodnight to both Sam and Bobby before he began to lead Jo upstairs to their room.

Jo followed willingly, allowing Dean's chatter to wash over her, largely unheard.

However, that night, as Dean lay at her side, snoring loudly and with one arm draped across his girlfriend in a contented poise, Jo lay awake long into the early hours of the morning.

Her thoughts revolved around a memory; a bustling bar presided over by a woman with the kindest smile she had ever known, and a man who smelled of gunpowder and leather, who twirled a little girl around a scuffed floor to music that resonated from the jukebox. More than anything in the world, Jo Harvelle yearned to honour that memory, and the idea that she might one day fail in that task was the most terrifying thing she had ever faced.

Though she had kept it to herself, the surge of remembrance that had brought her memories back to her had been tinged with a bittersweet renewal of grief. Peering up into the darkness, Jo curled her hand around Dean's, and almost instantly his fingers knotted with hers.

Memories were both a blessing and a curse, bringing immense joy, but an equal measure of pain and loss. So, Jo lay awake until exhaustion eventually overcame her, and her silent tears became little more than a stain on her pillow.

The End of Episode Eight

(Next Episode – 'Toy Story')